Does the conservative brand need healing? Has the right ever been so retrograde? In France, the white nationalism – to use a mild descriptive – of Marine Le Pen captured one-third of the vote in Sunday's election. In Britain, the wall builders of Brexit won. In the United States, there is the facile chaotic populism of President Donald Trump. Before him, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, the Iraq war, the financial meltdown of 2008.
Following the successes of traditional conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who could have imagined it all?
In the face of the Neanderthal lurches, the new era of populist prejudice, it's been noteworthy to observe the relative silence of our Conservatives in their leadership campaign. The challenge for this party, it would seem, would be to set itself as a breed apart, to send a clear message to right-side brethren with their primeval proclivities that the way forward is not backward.
But how much do today's Conservatives want to repudiate the new way? Many supported Brexit, many supported Mr. Trump. A poll before the election in France showed that 58 per cent of Canadian Conservatives supported Ms. Le Pen. Even if the real number is only about half that, it's still disturbing. In the leadership race, the leading voices have been right-wing libertarian Maxime Bernier, nativist Kellie Leitch and the departed populist Kevin O'Leary.
The far right has done well in some elections. As a consequence, it seems there is a sizable slice of the party here that looks upon the populist pandering elsewhere and says, "Hey, it gets votes, don't knock it."
But even if they don't say it loudly, there are also many distinctly at odds with the Trump, Brexit, Le Pen crowd. One among the leadership candidates is particularly well-suited for making the right rational again, for making the party modern, for bringing on a new conservatism than can beat Justin Trudeau. That's Michael Chong.
He is a Conservative who refreshingly sees politics as a higher calling than political warfare. He is denounced in party circles for favouring a revenue-neutral carbon tax. But as many conservatives, such as former U.S. secretary of state James Baker, point out, a market-based carbon tax is more conservative than a government-imposed slew of regulations. What's more, Mr. Chong offsets his carbon policy with a sweeping tax-cut program.
He is a long shot to win the race. The nativists don't like him. The Islamophobes don't like him. The social conservatives don't like him. The climate-change skeptics don't like him. Try finding a better set of endorsements than that.
His attributes are compelling. He is young, he has multiethnic appeal given his family background, he has been a leading democratic reformer with his push to take power away from the Prime Minister's Office and return it to regular MPs. He has integrity in spades, speaks decent French and has demonstrated principle not only with his bold move on the carbon tax but in resigning from Stephen Harper's cabinet in a dispute over Quebec policy and spending years on the back benches as a result.
A candidate who has a stronger chance than Mr. Chong for taking down the front-running Mr. Bernier, who has the courage of his convictions but whose convictions would narrow the reach of the party, is 37-year-old Andrew Scheer. His better time, as he lacks gravitas now, is probably about a decade from now. There is also the very solid but very stolid Erin O'Toole. Lisa Raitt is formidable, but speaks only one language.
Mr. Chong received a surprise endorsement on the weekend from Andrew MacDougall, who served as Stephen Harper's director of communications and has a good sense of how the party has to change.
But the Chong carbon-tax proposal, among other things, has set many in the Conservative caucus against him. His support there is feeble. It's a sad sign that the party is not set on making a bold departure from the retrograde madness besetting the right elsewhere.